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Wilderness First Responder Training Programs and Requirements

Wilderness first responders (WFR) are crucial in an emergency, because their medical training is specifically relevant to off-paths outdoors situations, such as camping and backpacking. Wilderness first responders come to the aid of people in remote areas who have experienced falls, broken bones, sun poisoning or other medical emergencies that need immediate attention. A multi-day training course leads to a certification as a wilderness first responder.

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Training Requirements and Recommendations

Typically, only high school graduates are eligible to enroll in the wilderness responder training program, though some programs admit those as young as 16 years old. Wilderness first responders are outdoor enthusiasts who love challenges and are in good physical and mental health. Employers seek individuals who are skilled in medical emergencies, calm under pressure and able to make quick decisions. Wilderness first responders typically complete a specialized training course, then obtain certification.

Formal Education

Many colleges and universities offer wilderness first responder courses and programs. Established professionals in the medical field may enroll to earn continuing education credit in their current position, while students may use this course for college credit to supplement a related major.

Certificate of Completion

Wilderness first responder training programs use role playing and mock rescues to teach students what to do in an emergency and how to assign the appropriate care. They offer case studies on a range of common issues, such as burns, bites, fractures, dislocations, childbirth, cardiac arrest, hypothermia, poisoning and shock. Courses also cover situational conditions such as lightning and altitude, and train participants to assemble a medical kit. Instructors teach students how to stabilize a patient and tend to wounds in preparation for ambulatory care, if available. Wilderness first responder certificate programs last from 5-10 days with 52-80 hours of study.

Job Experience

A wilderness first responder can expect both physical interaction and mental stimulation as they determine how to best rescue or treat those who are a great distance from medical resources. Wilderness first responders must work in all conditions, including severe weather such as snow or extreme heat. These medical professionals generally work in national or state parks and operate life-saving equipment, including backboards, oxygen systems and pulse oximetry devices. Though training courses concentrate on medical response, they typically also encourage students to take leadership roles in the event of crises. Those with leadership skills may advance to such positions as mountain guide, ranger, ski patroller or wilderness first responder instructor.

Licenses and Certifications

Wilderness first responder certification is granted after successful completion of a training course and a written and practical examination. Nationally recognized WFR certification lasts for three years, with refresher courses required for recertification. The required age of a wilderness first responder and total training hours vary by state, so students should contact their local emergency medical services governmental office for specific information. Most training programs also award a child and adult CPR training certificate, which is valid for two years.

Workshops and Seminars

First aid organizations and wilderness training centers offer educational resources for wilderness first responders to learn lessons on splinting, bandaging and administering oxygen. Weekend workshops in such locations as Vermont and Colorado combine adventure and education for outdoors lovers. Regional wilderness conferences, such as the Mid-Atlantic Student Wilderness Medical Conference, educate students on advanced life-saving techniques, new technology and the treatment specific injuries.

Additional Professional Development

The Wilderness Medical Associates (, Center for Wilderness Safety (, and National Outdoor Leadership School (, all host online blogs with information about the field of professional rescue. Readers can ask questions, learn about real-life scenarios and find out about new first aid courses. Online courses for wilderness first responder training are available, but are not useful in developing practical experience skills.

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